nominations, the contest, the debate the resistance the support was over.
Finally it was settled Mr Arthur Napoleon Robinson was to be President of
Trinidad and Tobago.
excitement and the flurry was immense. TV6’s Francesca arrived at
Information Division for final shots - she hadn’t slept all night -
finishing off a feature; Information’s Deborah Maynard arrived exhausted
from Tobago where she interviewed people on “Robbie” till midnight and
beyond: “I spoke to Mr Wheeler and people on the street and and it was
wonderful.” She trailed off excitedly and tiredly, “I’ll sleep and
then I’ll be back to edit.” Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian
Mr Owen Baptiste wrote a column about the invitations. Who’s
doing the inviting in the interim hours wondered Dominic Kalipersad.
was a dress rehearsal - all the media were out in full force, and the TV
stations jostled and marked the best spots to place their cameras. The
protocol people and the organisers and caterers were working round the
clock. The chandeliers and floors polished, the floral arrangements out,
cameramen and women stocking up on film, cleaning lenses. The newspaper
supplements were out, the constitution under examination. Mr Robinson’s
record laid bare. The Guardian wondered in a headline: Is Sir Vidia
Naipaul coming? Such a flurry. And why not?
ANR Robinson, inaugurated formally on March 19, has
served Trinidad and Tobago for over 40 years - from member of the
Federal Government to Prime Minister, as an MP and a barrister-at-law, as
an academic and statesman. His achievements and honours have been
reiterated many times in these past weeks.
it’s not for me to speak of the reservations and the precedents (not
Presidents). Let the analysts do that. But one thing I can tell you
arriving in Tobago as an 11-year-old
(even from as far as India) and living your teenaged years there is
like eating Cascadura. You love the place to death and you belong there.
And Mr Robinson, as they say, is a born Tobagonian. That loyalty becomes
as part of your blood as the guava patch behind Bishops High School,
trudging up to the Fort, sleeping and waking up to the thrash of the sea
in Charloteville, driving home on Sunday evening, head stuck out into the
sea breeze after a day in pigeon point, with matted salty hair flying in
your face, stealing chennets, jumping fences to your friends’ garden,
sliding down on the go-cart from the Fort, stirring the pot with stewed
cherries by Mrs Wheeler, eating mango chow.
were the quiet evenings in the backyard when this big orange haze would
cover the sky, and go pale pink and then the palm trees would wave inky
dark Evenings at Mt Irvine, and New Year’s dances at the Elias’s. Our
cars were unlocked and we hadn’t heard of burglarproof. At least that
was the Tobago I knew. (No Germans then at all) And in a sense, in Tobago
we all have a shared reality. Our jobs and walks of life are different,
our ages and races apart, but in its tranquillity, its relatively
unspoiled beauty its smallness, we feel safe, we didn’t expect to
encounter hostility. We were exempt from the rat race. Cozy. But that was
Tobago then, 15 years ago. And “Granny” in Tobago was part of all
that. We called her “Mother Robinson”. Everytime we went away to
school we were taken to get her blessings and when we came back we went
there first to be welcomed. She exclaimed over our growth and questioned
us over our schools, and presided over tea. She lived in Victory cottage.
On the incline of Main Road in Scarborough. A modest establishment divided
in two. A modern section where “Ray” and his wife Pat would stay and
another area of her own. We would sometimes sit in the sitting/dining
room. In it I remember a portrait of Mr Robinson taken at the time of his
graduation from Oxford, or on the verandah which had a garden adjoining a
who is this woman who brought up the Prime Minister and now the President
of this country? Her children and her family and grandchildren must know
her intimately but here is a cameo of the lady. Perhaps it will give us an
insight to the President of this country. But Mother Robinson adopted my
mother and by extension us. No doubt there were many other adopted
children in her life. There are those who knew “Mother Robinson”
intimately but here’s how we on the outside saw her.
always remember thinking how odd and how right they looked. My mother and
Mother Robinson. This woman from Bangalore in a sari (in Tobago!) and this
80-year-old lady in old-fashioned cotton floral dresses. So I called my
mother and asked her about Mother Robinson. From the time I was taken to
meet her, I was drawn to the lady like a magnet. I felt I’d known her
all my life. I didn’t feel any distance between us even though we came
from different backgrounds. She was 40 years older than me. She didn’t
have a flowery way of talking to people. She was sincere and you had to
get to know her very well to see through that. She appeared formal but
when you came to know her came to know her underlying kindness. She was a
very private person. She had strong views but never forced her advice on
you. She wasn’t wishy washy, going into superfluous endearing terms. You
couldn’t help respecting her. “Granny” said a lot without saying
very much. She discouraged people form overreacting to situations. She
expected them to take problems in their stride. She conveyed her thoughts
without thrusting her opinions on others.
used to visit her and feel stronger and better able to cope with my own
life. She was a person you could instinctively trust knowing she
wouldn’t discuss your business with anyone. She never let a word of
censure pass through her lips for any member of family or acquaintances.
She taught people by example.
clamoured for an old memory. How was the Prime Minister’s mother
different to the “Granny” we knew? When “Ray” became Prime
Minister, Mother Robinson just took it as a matter of course. She was
completely free of pride and egoism and self aggrandisation. Her lifestyle
didn’t change. She conveyed no conflict, no confusion, no resentment
against people who had hurt her or son politically.
Robinson spoke with affection of “Ray”. But never anything private or
political. That was between her and her son and I never asked. She never
spoke of politics but conveyed her beliefs which went beyond politics. She
never spoke specifically of any one child over the other, but collectively
of all her children. No one was singled out but she was satisfied they all
did well in whatever they were doing.
Mother Robinson was very Spartan in her attitude to her children - three
boys and one girl. She told me she used to chastise her children when they
were small so they would be well brought up. She didn’t believe in
indulging them or encouraging them to be extravagant. All kinds of people
came to see her - none very
glamorous or rich or elite but she was equally welcoming. She was modest
in all her ways, her friends, home, style of living.
called each other often. And we had a ritual I would ask, “Mother how
are you feeling today?” And she would reply, “Good dear, but not up to
the mark.” Isabella Robinson belonged to the Methodist Church across the
road and was actively
involved - never missed a church session - she used to go and sit and talk
to people. It was an indirect way of counselling them. She prayed with
them, talked to them, did more listening than talking. She never tried to
convert me. But when I was troubled she said “pray and I will pray for
you.” We held hands and prayed. I was always suffused with peace around
her. Suffused. We read the Bible together and she blessed me time and time
Robinson had made a tremendous success of her life. She had a wonderful
marriage with her husband who was a school-master in Castara, Tobago. She
told me how she lived happily with her husband - of compromise, self
control, always looking to the other person’s point of view and not
wanting your way all the time. Her husband loved and respected her. When
he died she brought up all the children by herself. Her children and
grandchildren were always around her. She never complained, she never
demanded, and she never told anybody her business.
were worlds apart - but the qualities which attracted me to her are
universal, discipline, decency, religious faith, as signs of right and
wrong, a strong marriage, patience.
that’s what my mother said of the late Mrs Isabella Robinson, mother of
the President of this republic.
many ways Mother Robinson epitomised the women of her generation - women
who took pride in their religion, their families, had a strong sense of
duty, knew what was right and wrong, and passed it on to their children -
no compromises. Call those mothers Victorian and puritan if you will. This
account given by my mother
finally explains to me the why that generation produced a different ilk of
men such as the Ellis Clarkes, the Boscoe Holders, the Trevor McDonalds,
the CLR Jameses.
Robinson not only gave birth to ANR Robinson, she gave him the tools that
would make him a Prime Minister and a President. A final thought. Tony
Deyal wrote of the now President ANR Robinson, “There is an almost
Puritan streak in his sense of justice and calling.” And it has been
said before but it needs to be said again. He was not only shot in the leg
by one of the insurgents during the 1990 coup attempt but he was willing
to give up his life for this country. The words he shouted out while a gun
was being pointed at him were the words of a principled man with a strong
sense of duty. “Attack with full force.”
that was how Isabella Robinson, mother of His Excellency President ANR
Robinson, brought up her son.